Saturday, January 21, 2006

Ask Todd, the first

Sorry for the lateness. I couldn't log in to Blogger for some reason.

You have asked questions. AND I SHALL ANSWER.

I'm giving you all pseudonyms.

Republican Rex wants to know, specifically, if the size of a newsroom has anything to do with bias (see this piece). Specifically, he thinks many small newspapers are too small, so they have obvious biases.

Yes and no. Obviously, everyone is biased. So a newsletter put out by one guy is going to reflect that guy's prejudices and biases (etc.). But once you add a second person to the mix, there's some mediation.

And so on and so on.

So. . .yes. . .the smaller a newsroom, the easier it is for one person to push through their vision of what the newspaper should be. But, most of the major metro dailies (and by that, I mean any paper that publishes all seven days of the week) have the necessary checks and balances in place to take care of things. You're much more likely to see outright bias in a weekly newspaper.

Jaundiced Jennifer wants to know just what I meant when I said that good satire should piss everyone off (and somewhere in here, I'm going to launch a defense of Prickly City. . .cover your ears). (See this piece.)

I THINK what my boss was trying to say is that good satire comes from such a specific worldview of one individual that others who come in contact with it won't ALWAYS agree with it. Bad satire just toes the party line and says the other side is bad. That's why Mallard Fillmore is terrible satire. It just automatically assumes everything liberals do is wrong. However, Prickly City (which has met with less success) automatically assumes everything liberals do is wrong, but (here's the difference) one of creator Scott Stantis' two main characters (specifically the coyote Winslow) is a liberal whom Stantis has affection for. Instantly, the strip becomes the product of a worldview beyond the right-wing echo chamber (there are plenty of web comics that exist in the left-wing echo chamber if you want to go digging). Mallard Fillmore just wants to antagonize liberals; Prickly City wants to EVANGELIZE to them, which makes it much more interesting.

Mallard Fillmore is also never, never funny. It's a law of the universe.

Lumberin' Larry wants to know what the difference is between who and whom. (See? I never should have said I was a copy editor!)

Who is a subject pronoun. Whom is an object pronoun. If you knew all about subjects and objects, we wouldn't have to have this discussion. But. . .in general. . .a subject DOES the action. An object RECEIVES the action. In this sentence -- The cat shot the gun at the squid -- "cat" is the only subject. But we have two objects. Specifically, we have "gun," which is receiving the action of the cat ("shot") and the "squid," which is receiving the action of the prepositional phrase.

Most people just say "When you use he, use who, and when you use him, use whom." That's a pretty good rule, expect people always forget that when you have a "to be" verb in there, the participle defaults to a subject (because we're equating with the subject). So we would properly have "It is he" or "It is we" instead of "It's him" or "It's us." This means that "It is I!" is grammatically appropriate. So use it when you want to sound ostentatious.

So, when you've got a situation where you need to use who or whom, rearrange the clause to make a proper sentence, then stick in he or him (it almost always works. . .the few exceptions are ones you don't need to worry about because you don't get paid to do this crap). Let's play!

That is the man who/whom is getting the boat.

Who, of course, is right in that sentence. We wouldn't say "Him is getting the boat," would we?

The cat who/whom she gave the present to is the fat one.

Here, we would say "whom." When we rearrange the sentence, we get. . ."She gave the present to who/whom." And, of course, we say "She gave the present to him."

You're getting the hang of it.

Finally, Touchdown Terry wants to know my NFL playoff predictions AND what I thought of Match Point.

I give Match Point a big, fat "meh." I found the last thirty minutes riveting and everything else so so. Woody's garden-variety existentialism just gets tiresome and heavyhanded after a while.

NFL playoff predictions? Don't mind if I do. (Even IF my beloved Colts are out of it. *sob*)

AFC: Pittsburgh 21, Denver 20 (I think this could turn into another game for the ages.)
NFC: Seattle 34, Carolina 17 (not so much here)

Hey. I predicted a Seahawks/Colts Super Bowl before the season. It would be nice to be right on ONE count.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Funny TV lady

Dana Stevens' defense of why she likes "Skating with Celebrities" over at Slate is an excellent bit of TV criticism.

In particular, I like this. . .

But it's also hard not to root for Todd Bridges, the erstwhile Willis of Diff'rent Strokes, who's since been through the former child-star mill of small-time brushes with the law. Bridges breaks an unwritten rule of washed-up-celeb etiquette: Do not showcase your has-been-itude with explicit references to your days in the sun. When the toughest of the three judges (John Nicks, a legendary skating coach) calls Bridges out on his clumsy footwork, Bridges narrows his eyes and blurts, "What you talkin' 'bout?" This is disturbing on several levels—not least the fact that was Gary Coleman's catchphrase on Diff'rent Strokes, not Bridges'. Willis is, by definition, he who is asked "What you talkin' 'bout?", not he who asks it.


Indeed.

Read more here.

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Daniel Laikind and what reality TV COULD be

So Daniel Laikind has a new series about Lisa Loeb's attempts to find a man. It's called "#1 Single" and it's on E! (which may be the most worthless channel ever).

Now, reality dating shows and reality shows featuring washed-up celebrities are a dime a dozen. What makes this interesting to me is Laikind's involvement.

I'm not one of those people who blindly says, "All reality TV is bad!" but a LOT of reality TV is bad. Worse, a lot of it is boring. I mean, Survivor is very well filmed, competently done, etc., but how many variations on the rules can there be before it gets really, really dull (my answer is: not many)? The stuff that crowds up cable is even worse. VH1 at least had the weird train wreck that was Breaking Bonaduce, which proved that Americans really WILL watch anything, while MTV has Laguna Beach, which is, at best, an amusing antidote to the overly articulate teens in scripted entertainment (watching too much of it actually makes me want to give up TV for good -- I swear MY friends and I were more articulate than these sots. . .weren't we, guys?).

Where was I?

Oh yes. Laikind came over to TV series when he worked on Amish in the City, which naturally dovetailed with his film The Devil's Playground, about the Amish concept of rumspringa, where Amish teens get a chance to see how the rest of the world lives and understand all of its temptations. Devil's Playground was a fascinating look at being a part of a subculture and religious sacrifice. Amish in the City was supposed to be an exploitative reality show.

Except in the hands of Laikind and the other producers, it wasn't. It contrasted the respectful Amish with crass "city" teenagers. It showed just how hard it is to live in the most powerful country on Earth and still feel a world apart. It did a great many things reality TV almost never does. (To read more about the production philosophy behind the show, go here. You'll have to watch an ad.)

Laikind went on to do Family Bonds, which I confess I haven't seen, but my understanding is that it was one of the better "workplace" reality shows that became so popular a few years back (The Restaurant, The Casino, etc.).

Anyway, now he's turning his attention to the dating subgenre of reality. And I think his approach (he views the series as an eight-part documentary on the struggles of people looking for partners in their late 30s -- especially women, who are still frowned upon) is an intriguing one to bring to this subgenre.

But could it be brought to other subgenres. Could someone legitimately take the American Idol talent show format or the Survivor game show format and turn them into mini-documentaries?

Chuck Klosterman has written a very good essay about how reality TV (specifically in his essay The Real World) has made us all in to actors. In essence, we're all playing a reality TV "type." If I'm the sarcastic observer, then you're the sassy gay man and she's the mother figure and. . .on and on. While I don't know that that's true in real life as Klosterman says, it's certainly true of reality TV. What makes Laikind's work so interesting is that he finds people who aren't afraid to be real and not "play a part." His editing also goes out of its way to show the verite of the situation.

I don't think the Survivor-style shows should END, per se, but it would be nice to see more reality in them. To make them feel less heavily scripted and edited.

Like I said, I don't know how you can accomplish this, but the person who does will win brownie points from me if nothing else.

But just imagine what someone like Barbara Kopple or Errol Morris could do with a 13-episode narrative. You could tell the story of a whole town or a whole extended family or a whole experience.

The mind fairly boggles.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ten Comic Strips Worth Reading


Just when you think I'm going to zig, I zag. . .

The American comic strip was in rather a sorry state just five years ago. Calvin and Hobbes had ended, as had The Far Side. Bloom County was but a distant memory. And Peanuts had wrapped up with Charles Schulz dying.

About the best things the comics page had going for it were Zits and Fox Trot, both of which were starting to show their age (and, to be honest, Zits is not "about" being a teenager -- it's about being the parent of a teenager).

Enter the Internet.

The Internet made it easier for all of us to follow our favorite strips. It gave those who couldn't break into the syndicated game a place to display their stuff. It offered up places that offered oft-hilarious commentary on the daily comic strip. The world that Bill Watterson worried about shortly before the end of Calvin and Hobbes -- a world where no one could study the history of the great comics -- has largely been thwarted by the Internet, which proved that there WAS an audience out there for book collections of the complete runs of Peanuts and Dennis the Menace. Indeed, classic strips like Pogo and Lil' Abner are running out there right now if you want to find them.

But, let's be fair, most of the comics out there are crap, grandfathered in by generations of people who read them out of habit. When's the last time you laughed out loud at Beetle Bailey or clipped out The Family Circus to hang it on your refrigerator (especially with just how smug those kids have gotten lately)? Of course you haven't done either of these things.

But there are strips out there that are still quality. I'm going to highlight some of them. Many of them are very popular. Some are hardly known. One is just under three weeks old.

But all of them are syndicated. If you have suggestions for web comics I should be checking out, please send them to me for a future column.

1.) Get Fuzzy (read it here). Get Fuzzy is maybe the loopiest strip on the comics page in a long while. What I love about it is how distinct all of the characters' voices are and how long author Darby Conley will let storylines go on (sometimes picking them up months later). I also love that the strip isn't afraid to do things that are patently not funny, such as having Rob's cousin come home from Iraq minus one leg. It's a bold, well-written strip. And it rarely (if ever) conforms to the simple gag setup so many other strips follow.

2.) Pearls Before Swine (read it here). This is probably the antithesis of Get Fuzzy. It has very few long, ongoing storylines (and, quite frankly, the few it does have are not its strong suit). But it does simple, twisted gags better than any strip since maybe The Far Side. It twists comics conventions inside and out until they bend and break. And has a lovely time doing so. Check out this one to see what I mean.

3.) Frazz (read it here). I'll admit that I don't like this one QUITE as much as some out there. It occasionally seems a little too sweet by half for my tastes, and I wonder how the janitor hasn't been accused of any sort of malfeasance with the kids (the perils of our modern age, I guess). Plus, the fact that he's a rock star is sort of silly. But this strip has a big heart, and it's got nicely written gags. It's a nice respite from some of the freneticism of the other strips out there.

4.) Spot the Frog (read it here). I don't know what it is about this one. Its gags are not particularly inventive. Its characters are pretty stock "types." But there's something about its sweetness of spirit that gets to me. I don't think it can last forever (sweetness is a hard thing to do day after day without becoming cloying), but it's a nice relaxing read right now.

5.) The Boondocks (read it here). The mark of good satire, an editorial page editor boss of mine once said, is that it expresses a singular enough view to piss everyone off once in a while. Of the political strips out there, only The Boondocks regularly incites anger in most everyone I know. Aaron McGruder is not happy with the direction of things in the U.S., and he's not afraid to say why. It doesn't hurt that he's scabrously funny. This is what Doonesbury hasn't been for decades, what Prickly City aspires to be and what Mallard Fillmore never was.

6.) Big Top (read it here). I'm not sure what to make of this one. I think I enjoy it though. It's a relatively young strip, so it's still getting things together, but it's got a lot of potential, I think. And the circus is a boffo setting for a comic strip.

7.) Candorville (read it here). More left-leaning satire, though a bit more gentle-spirited than The Boondocks. This isn't as consistent as that strip either, but it has a large, sprawling cast and an interesting setting. Again, it's a marked improvement on that tired old warhorse Doonesbury. More newspapers should drop that one and pick up this if they want left-leaning humor but don't want the angry calls The Boondocks would get them. (I honestly don't know of a single good right-leaning conservative strip. Sorry.)

8.) Agnes (read it here). This is an odd, verbose little strip that has never gotten the attention it deserves. It's older than many of the choices on this list, and it really deserves your eyeballs every once in a while. Little girl strips have never been done so well.

9.) Perry Bible Fellowship (read it here). This one makes it into some alt weeklys, so I guess it counts. It's easily the weirdest strip out there right now, and it's bound to offend some of my more gentle readers (what with the creators obsession with rabbit sex and the occasional lowbrow gag). But when one of these strips hits, there's nothing like it.

10.) Cow and Boy (read it here). This is the strip I was talking about with the "under three weeks" thing. I love this one out of the gate, and that hasn't happened in a while. It seems like another Calvin and Hobbes ripoff, but there's more at work here. Cow is a much more nurturing presence than Hobbes ever was, and Boy seems to be a little more down-to-earth than Calvin. I also love the wild setting. This feels like something that could be huge, and here you can get in on the ground floor. Check out the strip I posted above. I LOVE that Cow uses the word "fortuitous." It feels completely perfect. And check out the one from last Sunday about reincarnation too.

Of course, there are many worthy older strips too. I still like For Better or For Worse despite everything. And there are plenty of worthy younger strips I don't keep up with. I know many love Bo Nanas and Red and Rover. And 9 Chickweed Lane. And Dog and Doug. And. . .

You get the picture.

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A new face

Luke Michael DeSmet joins the blogging world. Click on his name or look for him off to the right.

I promise lots of witty stories about his tragic childhood are forthcoming.

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Ask Todd

I've got an idea.

Many of my posts are WAY too verbose. If you don't understand anything, pose a question in the comments section here or e-mail me at ambiguousdog@hotmail.com.

I will then answer all of your questions every Friday in some sort of Q&A format. It should be thrilling!

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The Future of Arrested Development

The cable list and special awards are going to have to wait, as I just got in late last night from Vegas (It was great, thanks for asking).

If'n you like Lost's soundtrack, this is a lot of fun. Michael Giacchino's music from season one is nearly peerless in the history of television (even if he's gone a bit too far over-the-top in season two).

But. . .there's important Arrested Development news afoot.

I think it's clear that this show is not for everybody and never will be, but I had hoped for it to get to the 85 episodes or so necessary to enter syndication. However, that's just not going to happen on Fox.

First, we get word that the show is going to air its final four episodes against the Winter Olympics opening ceremony (of all things). The opening ceremony is guaranteed to be one of the three top-rated broadcasts of the year (the Super Bowl and the Oscars being the other two. . .unless CSI does another Tarantino episode or Sasha Cohen randomly sends a trained bear after Michelle Kwan and thereby turns the figure skating finals into Kerrigan/Harding 2: This Time with Less White Trash). So when Fox says it's giving the show one last chance to see what it can do, what they're really saying is that they're looking for further justification of their cancellation decision.

And I swear I'm not bitter at them for canceling it. Really! They tried to find an audience for it for three years and couldn't. I think they just didn't know how to sell the show, but I'm not going to berate them for not knowing how. It's a TOUGH show to sell (just wait until ABC tries to sell Sons and Daughters -- possibly the best comedy since Arrested and equally complicated -- later this spring).

But anyway. . .

Fox's president Peter Liguori has said that the chances of Arrested coming back on Fox are very slim. So there you have it.

But he hasn't officially canceled it. And there's the rub for those of you wondering why the rumors of another network picking it up haven't come to fruition yet (I'm going to stop linking here because I'm drawing on a number of sources. If you question me on any point, feel free to use the comments section to say so and I'll do what I can to answer your questions with linkage in a later post).

As most fans of the show know by now, ABC and Showtime have both expressed interest in paying for a fourth season. For Showtime, the reasoning is easy. They need something to pair with Weeds, and they need to boost their subscription base. With HBO's general malaise and laurel resting, they probably also feel that the quick shot in the arm the rabid Arrested fanbase would give their network would help them at the Emmys and Golden Globes (HBO and Showtime don't base success on ratings; they base it on how many subscribers join to watch their programming -- it's easy to forget that The Sopranos was just the straw that broke the camel's back in vaulting HBO to its current colossal position; the network had several other hot shows, and Sopranos just cemented its reputation). They've got Huff performing at the Emmys (for some reason), and Weeds sure to do well as well (at least for Mary Louise Parker). But to truly convince the cognoscenti that refuse to watch television beyond HBO (which, I'll remind you, is not TV), they need to get that extra push. And Arrested would be a feather in the cap.

I don't know why ABC is interested. I have theories, but none of them make total sense, so I won't speculate.

But neither network can do anything until Liguori officially cancels the show. And he has until Fox announces its schedule in May to do so. I'm guessing he'll stall as long as he possibly can, hoping to kill the interest from other networks. As terrified as network heads are of failure, they're even more terrified of another network head picking up their castoff and turning it into a hit. And if there's one network that knows how to turn a show into a hit nowadays, it's ABC (R.I.P. Emily's Reasons Why Not).

So let's look at the situation as it currently stands. As far as I can see, there were five possible outcomes, one of which is probably dead. Let's look at them individually.

1.) The show is gone for good. After the inevitable low ratings on Olympic night, Liguori continues to say the network has to look at its development slate for fall 2006. He manages to stall long enough to make ABC lose interest and force Showtime to come up with another companion for Weeds. The show ends after three seasons, and Comedy Central picks up the cable rerun rights.

2.) NBC picks up the show. Last year, there was a prevalent rumor (that, admittedly, never seemed to move beyond Internet message boards and gossip sites) that NBC would pick the show up for a third season (this was when it was assumed the show was done for). It doesn't appear that this will happen. It's a pity, too, as it would be a natural fit in an evening with Scrubs, Earl and The Office.

3.) Fox picks up the show. I know. That second news article I posted makes this seem highly unlikely. But Fox IS in trouble, comedy-wise. Malcolm and 70s Show are ending this year. Bernie Mac seems likely to end. King of the Hill is done. Stacked looks to be on its way out too. That leaves the Sunday lineup, with The War at Home not making Fox terribly proud in any way, shape or form. There's NO WAY they'll fill all of these slots with new comedies, even if they bring back Futurama (which shouldn't happen until 2008 anyway). Maybe Fox will decide that if they order two more 13-episode seasons to put on after football (in a time slot that's frequently pre-empted anyway), they can get this to a syndication-friendly number and finally recoup their extensive investment.

4.) ABC picks up the show. I'm starting to think this is less and less likely. If Showtime picks this up and makes it a hit, everyone can say what was said from the start: It should have been on cable. If ABC does though, heads will roll at Fox. Liguori will wait ABC out, even though the rumor is that ABC has guaranteed a 13-episode season and has talked with creator Mitch Hurwitz about potential storylines (and, honestly, this show, Crumbs and Sons and Daughters could make for three-fourths of a dysfunctional family comedy night). Still, I don't think this will happen. ABC has pretty terrible comedy development still, but it won't want to play too many games.

5.) Showtime picks up the show. I'm tentatively leaning toward this happening for the reasons explained above. Purportedly, Showtime has promised TWO seasons. Tack on a third season (which would be the show's sixth), and you've got 92 episodes, just enough for syndication. Maybe Liguori can wait them out, though. And the show IS going to be a bit too expensive for Showtime, though a half-million more subscribers would make that up in a hurry.

Sorry to go so inside baseball, but I know many of you really, really care about this show. Again, if you have questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Tomorrow, something more reader friendly.

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